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Veterans group fears forced budget cuts

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is warning its membership that despite assurances otherwise from the government, programs for veterans are threatened by looming automatic budget cuts.

The organization fears that the magnitude of the cuts that would be mandated if Congress does not reach a budget deficit deal might harm future Department of Veterans Affairs budgets, especially for medical and prosthetics research and for maintenance and construction projects.

“Absorbing a $1.2 trillion cut would be a game changer that would not only eliminate quality of life programs for military personnel and their families, it could potentially jeopardize our military’s ability to respond when and where needed,” the VFW said in a paper sent Wednesday to all its state departments and employees.

“After the election, the VFW will contact every member of Congress and tell them to put their petty issues aside and do what’s right for the country,” the organization said in an e-mail accompanying the paper.

“This is the big elephant in the room,” said Joe Davis, VFW director of public affairs. “Right now, nobody knows what will happen. We have to be prepared for anything.”

In April, the Office of Management and Budget informed the Government Accountability Office that all programs administered by VA, including veterans’ medical care, “are exempt from sequestration.” In July, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told Congress his agency “is exempt from sequestration, except for administrative costs.”

“We appreciate this, but VFW will continue to monitor how the effects of sequestration might impact future VA budgets,” the VFW briefing said.

The VFW talking paper identifies 10 Defense Department and VA programs and services that it believes are in danger of being eliminated or curtailed in the event of sequestration.

They include: changes to the 20-year military retirement plan to make it resemble civilian plans; increases in health-care premiums for military families and retirees using the Tricare military health system; higher pharmaceutical fees for military families and retirees; and lower cost-of-living allowance increases.

The VFW also fears the cuts could mean an end to government subsidies for military commissaries; the elimination of Defense Department elementary schools in the United States; an end to Pentagon tuition reimbursement programs for service members; tougher times for disabled and ill veterans to get treatment for some conditions; reduced benefits or increased fees for higher-income veterans; and a freeze on military pay, as has happened with federal civilian pay.

“The VFW recognizes that current budget realities are forcing very hard choices in Congress and in agencies and departments across the executive branch, but we also recognize that balancing the budget on the backs of disabled veterans, those in uniform, their families, and military retirees is not a solution, and could potentially jeopardize the continued success and viability of the all-volunteer force,” the organization said in its e-mail.

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